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Author Topic: Can the Dogs Define Sin Away?  (Read 6431 times)
lumpley
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« on: August 26, 2005, 06:55:53 AM »

There's an idea in the game that I find problematic: that the Dogs can redefine sin so that it isn't sin anymore. But that's a larger issue, and I'll start another thread to discuss it.

I beat you to it!

The answer is: no they can't.

They can forgive, they can put right, they can heal. But it's the GM decides what's a sin, at town creation. The Dogs do not participate in that.

-Vincent
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2005, 09:19:30 AM »

Of course, you're talking about sin as a rules concept, not the in-game socio-religious one. Because that one is surely decided by the society at large, ultimately the elders of the Faith.

So, ultimately, the only thing the Dogs can decide is their own attitude towards events, just like any player characters. They just happen to have pretty much authority in the setting, on the local level. This isn't because of the game rules, but because the setting is defined as such.

I have a feeling this one's been hashed out before...
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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2005, 09:33:14 AM »

Of course, you're talking about sin as a rules concept, not the in-game socio-religious one. Because that one is surely decided by the society at large, ultimately the elders of the Faith.

No "of course" about it. I'm talking about sin in the game, any and all.

The GM decides what's sin. The society at large doesn't, the elders of the Faith don't, the Dogs don't, scripture doesn't, God doesn't. Just and only the GM, just and only at town creation.

-Vincent
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2005, 10:06:54 AM »

Vincent: now I'm all confused. What then about all the setting-specific stuff you have in the town creation rules? Because there it says pretty clearly this:
Quote from: Dogs in the Vineyard
Stewardship applies to interpreting doctrine! The King of Life tells the Prophets and Ancients the Truth Immortal. The Prophets and Ancients derive from Truth Immortal specifi c doctrines, as It applies to the here and now, which they tell to the regional Stewards. The regional Stewards apply the doctrines to the circumstances of their regions, and tell their branch Stewards. The branch Stewards apply these interpretations to their own congregations, and tell the families. The husbands apply the interpretations to themselves and their wives, and with their wives apply them to their children and other family members.

If the NPCs can interpret doctrine, how is it possible that they don't decide what's a sin? And if you're supposed to play the NPCs "as they would act", then how can you do that without letting them make claims about what's sin? Furthermore, what meaning or importance does sin have, if you don't mean the in-world social institution by the word?

Perhaps we're understanding what a "sin" is differently. As I see it, this is the situation:
- The rules of the game define a town creation system. The town creation system has this thing called "sin": the GM has to choose, according to certain guidelines, what "sins" a given town has.
- By virtue of game design, the town creation rules definition for "sin" will in all cases end up in accordance with what the Faith as defined for the setting considers sin. Unless, of course, the GM opts to create some "sin" that specifically isn't.
- In play we're imagining all these stories about Dogs. In these stories there are a lot of people who put a lot of stock on sin and sinning, and think it very important to know what is a sin and what isn't. Their major guideline in this is, like the book tells us, the doctrine of the Faith.

So, my understanding: you're talking about the town creation system, in which the GM gets to pick which sins the town will exhibit. This isn't "deciding what is sin", or is it? The GM's just picking and choosing, according to the town creation rules. And the NPCs of the town in question will still think that the other things in the doctrine are sins, too, even if their town doesn't exhibit them. Right? Because otherwise I'm completely lost.

If we are to take the setting as defined seriously, surely we have to agree that the elders of the Faith know what is sin doctrine-wise? Or at least they think they know. The GM can't just change this on a per-town basis, can he?

In a word: I don't understand what you mean, unless there is sin-as-system-concept and sin-as-something-in-the-story. The former is an item the GM manipulates in town creation, the latter is a critical component of the psychology of the Faith and the faithful. The two concepts are identical as long as everybody stays within the faithful doctrine, but in no case does the GM "decide what's sin", because the setting and the rules tell us that.

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lumpley
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« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2005, 11:19:30 AM »

Ah.

Well, any and all NPCs and PCs can think whatever they want - strictly, think whatever their creators want them to think. They can have all kinds of opinions about what's sin and what isn't. That's fine.

Sin is only defined bindingly in one little place: town creation.

So let's say that the Dogs undertake an ambitious endeavor: they want to convince every single man, woman and child, every steward and elder, in the whole Faith, that stealing from your brother isn't a sin. They go through one hundred conflicts, ever-increasing in scope, and at last they decisively win: there isn't a Faithful on the whole earth who believes that stealing from your brother is a sin.

The GM sits down to create a town. She writes "Pride: Abe thinks that having learned to read makes him better than his brother Barth. Injustice: Abe bullies Barth into taking on the cattle drive without his help, so he can 'cogitate.' Sin: while Barth is away, Abe steals his watch. Demonic attacks: on the cattle drive, Barth is trampled and killed."

Totally, fully, 100% legit. The players have no objection and no recourse.

-Vincent
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2005, 11:26:25 AM »

OK, I think we're good here. You're just talking about the rules-term sin, not the in-game conception, which is up for grabs under usual setting logic. It'd have been faster if you'd have just agreed to it in the first place, because that's what I said :)
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2005, 11:30:58 AM »

Uh... actually, I think he's saying that in game there is a distinction between "sin" and "stuff that's wrong."

The GM decides sin.  The players decide right and wrong.  The two are largely independent, the same way they would be if you replaced "sin" with "contagion."

Is somebody who goes out in the winter without a jacket doing a Wrong Thing?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Is he likely to catch a cold?  Yes.

Is somebody who steals from his prideful brother doing a Wrong Thing?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Is he committing a sin?  Yes.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2005, 11:36:48 AM »

Well, that's a given, isn't it? The game quite explicitly says that there is no overall moral authority in there, anywhere. So the closest anybody can come in that regard is in-setting morality (as distinct from ethics). And that revolves around the concept of sin: define what's sin, and you define what's wrong according to the Faithful who believes in that sin. What's objectively wrong (as in "we the people playing this game" wrong) is explicitly left out of the rules.

So while I agree with you, Tony, I don't think that that's the point of contention in the original post where this was split. It seems to me that the original poster was puzzling the other extreme: if the dogs can do whatever they want with full moral authority, what happens if they decide to go against the Faith is laid down in the book? That's the question Vincent's answering, I believe.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2005, 11:42:46 AM »

That's not what I said.  In game, there is the concept of sin that is not wrong, and virtue that is not right.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2005, 12:04:50 PM »

Yeah, that's "sin" as represented in the town creation mechanics. Which is what I corrected in my first post. It seemed to me that the original poster was addressing sin as an in-game social concept, while Vincent answered about sin as the mechanical town creation concept. Of course I agree that the sin the GM chooses in town creation won't always be wrong, that's a big part of the game. On the other hand, something a character considers sin by definition is wrong, if he's of the Faith. That's what committing to a religious morality means, making your judgement of good and evil based on dogma. So for the characters sin=wrong, except for those rare moments when a character transcends his upbringing.

Look: the original post, if I understood it, was worrying that the game goes to foolishness when the players start redefining theology however they want. Vincent answered to this by pointing out that there is no game mechanical cross-purposes and it's all good. I tried to clarify that the GM's mechanical authority over town creation won't mean jack for the characters in the story, which will define what's sin and what's not for themselves. For the GM the doctrine of Pride-Injustice-etc. is rules mechanics, but for the characters it's "just" the dominant theology, to be ignored if they will.

It seems to me that we're all talking past each other. Better call this quits. I'm 99% sure that we're not really disagreeing on any of the interesting stuff.
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lumpley
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« Reply #10 on: August 26, 2005, 12:07:55 PM »

I agree with Eero. Everybody gets the procedures of play, right? It turns out that in the real world - I mean actual play - this whole sin/not-sin thing isn't even a concern. Try it, you'll see.

We need to hear from Pôl, though. Nobody answer again before he does.

-Vincent
« Last Edit: August 26, 2005, 12:11:37 PM by lumpley » Logged
Pôl Jackson
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« Reply #11 on: August 27, 2005, 02:41:33 AM »

I agree with Eero. Everybody gets the procedures of play, right? It turns out that in the real world - I mean actual play - this whole sin/not-sin thing isn't even a concern. Try it, you'll see.

We need to hear from Pôl, though. Nobody answer again before he does.

Here I am!

And here's what I was thinking, when I made the original post:

I kept getting hung-up with the town creation process. Specifically, with the question, "What do the demons want from the Dogs?" And here's the example from the book that confounded me (p. 75, "Example Two: The Whitechurch Branch", section 6B, "The Demons"):

Quote
They [the demons] don't want the Dogs to pronounce that it's okay for the town to rob the store-- because if the Dogs say it, it's probably not false doctrine. That's what Dogs do, after all.

Which led me to think: Can the Dogs solve the problem in any town simply by identifying the false doctrine, and then declaring it to be true? In other words, if the Dogs join the side of the demons, do the demons automatically lose?

And if so, then the question, "What do the demons want from the Dogs" is always going to be: "Make the Dogs stay away! Don't allow them to interfere! And at all costs, stop them from agreeing with the false doctrine!" Which might be interesting for the first couple of towns, but I expect that it would get boring eventually.

And here's what I'm thinking, now:

1.)  I am being way too literal-minded. The purpose of the town creation rules is to get a bunch of grabby NPCs and to create a difficult situation that the Dogs have to solve, right? As long as I've got that, I'm gold. I should just choose an interesting answer to the question "What do the demons want from the Dogs", and stop worrying about it.

2.)  My original hang-up didn't actually have to do with "Dogs redefining sin", but rather with "Dogs redefining false doctrine". Which I thought were one and the same, but now I suspect are different. Both sin and and false doctrine are defined by the GM at town creation. But from what Vincent is saying, the definition of sin doesn't change; it is "set" when the town is created. In contrast, it seems that false doctrine can certainly change into true doctrine, based on the actions of the Dogs. Do I have that right, Vincent?

3.)  Vincent, you just blew my mind:

Quote
The GM decides what's sin. The society at large doesn't, the elders of the Faith don't, the Dogs don't, scripture doesn't, God doesn't. Just and only the GM, just and only at town creation.

So, the GM can define sin at town creation that is outside of what is considered sin by the Faithful? Because I've been trying to go "by the book" when determining sin for towns, trying to figure out what people of the Faith would consider sinful. And that's a valid approach, I think. But... it's incredibly freeing to realize that I'm not bound to it. I can bring in my own feelings, make the town about the issues that I feel are important.

How obvious that is! And yet, I needed to be told I could do it. I needed to be given permission. Isn't that odd?

Thanks to everyone for your comments!
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